I felt like a Superstar in China…
The first time I heard such phrase was in October 2017, from a British traveler in Amman, Jordan.
But the true meaning of these words, I started to realize them once I entered China two months ago. Since then, I have felt surprised, astonished, maybe also admired gazes on me, in each and every corner… I have been asked to be photographed with strangers, women and men, girls and boys. If I had an opportunity to earn money this way, by being captured on someone’s mobile phone, in just a few months, I could turn into a millionaire in China:) Now I know what it feels to be a superstar in China!
But there is also another side of the coin called China.
So let me tell you my story:
I feel in this lonely Planet there is one thing that will make us feel not so lonely, that is Travel. When we travel, we feel so enriched, the culture, the contact with people from another country lets you experience the world from a different angle, which creates a sense of galore. Every new country I entered, my heart was open to embracing the new, the other culture, the feeling transmitted by its people. It all was filling my heart and soul with exuberance of impressions. But China was entirely different: from the first moment I entered the country I felt shocked and closed. Why? Well, if you really want to know the answer to this question, read on:
It was a late night of March, I arrived in Guangzhou Airport. Guangzhou is a city in the Southern part of China, the capital city of Guangdong Province of China. Guangzhou Baiyun Airport is the major airport in Guangzhou city. The airport is the principal connecting point of China Southern Airlines and a focus city for Shenzhen Airlines. Interestingly, Baiyun is named after Mount Baiyun located very close to the airport and means “White clouds” in Chinese.
Well, if you ask me how was my first impression? I will respond this way: I felt like in prison: guards standing on top with guns and looking around to protect the airport, made me feel restricted in my movements. Later on, one man told me that Guangzhou is a place where Chinese armies are focused and they control everything, even the internet use of foreigners. Hence, no wonder why I felt that way.
So from the very first seconds, I had a sort of scary feeling in my stomach… Feeling like I was under control.
Spending a few days in Guangzhou, I traveled to the nearby city Shenzhen for a job interview. From the first sight, we had sympathy for each other with this high-tech city.
It was fascinating to know the story of a small fishing village that turned into such a highly-developed city and science center in just a few years. Shenzhen has grown rapidly and its educational arena has grown side by side. Shenzhen University, founded in 1983 offers a wonderful learning environment, with its natural campus area resembling a piece of exotic heaven.
Overall, Shenzhen has lured me with its beautiful evening lightening:
So, that was a small piece on the beautiful city of Shenzhen in the South of China, situated very close to Hong Kong. But as one might guess, China is full of contrasts.
There are many things that will make you feel shocked in China. Here I will mention three of them:
- Communication barrier
Of course, it is natural that the Chinese have their own language and speak Chinese in their country. They are not obliged to speak other languages. But in customer service points, in Hotels, big restaurants, etc, it is really strange when they cannot understand the foreigner. Where they accept foreign guests and do not speak a bit of English to serve better their guests, let’s admit it is quite weird and vanishing.
Yet a slight misconception happens when asked about my country of origin. If Chinese people ask me where do I come from, their reaction is nearly the same for each person: when they hear Armenia, they say “Oh.. A.. menia… “ and literally stare to the sky or the ceiling… At this moment, all you have to do to make things clear is to say “It’s close to Russia”. And they immediately change their facial expression. Of course, Russia is bigger and more famous and that’s it. So, now I know the trick to cut out the explanation time: since they know Russia better, my answer goes like this “I was born in Moscow, Russia” (since that is the truth). This makes it short and simple. And no need to explain the whereabouts of my country, plus make a translation on a mobile app. While in Europe there were confusions about the name of my country, by understanding it as Romania and I had to explain the location of my country on the map, in China, all these explanations are being doubled, because they all use mobile translation software to communicate with foreigners. It usually makes things harder based on timing: yet another complication of living in China.
2. The traffic
Watch your way and know that traffic lights are not for Chinese drivers. Here in China, you have to be really careful when you cross the street. Normally, we are used to passing the street when there is a green light on, but in China this is against rule: even if there is a green switched on the traffic light, make sure to look around, to have a glance on your left and right, as Chinese drivers usually think the streets are all for them.
3.Chinese people are very direct!
I mean really truly direct. When we say Dutch people are very direct, these are just petals… Come to China and you will know for sure what it means to be really direct. If you are a sensitive person like me, be sure: you will get offended in each and every corner in China. Most of the times, they will not try being soft and tactful but will throw it on your face, with no single thought of whether they may hurt you or not.
Eventually, if you really want to survive in China, you must have lots of energy, I mean really really lots of energy. Life is a challenge? Is it? In fact, in China, every single day is a challenge, which you are gonna overcome every single moment especially if you don’t speak Chinese.
Cultural shock, you say? Or shaken soul, perhaps? Awkward situations can happen when moving from one European country to another. But when it comes to China, Shock is the right word to depict the entire situation. Here you will be shocked and shaken in each and every sense of the word.
But if you are up for a dose of extreme- extreme in smells, shapes and sounds, this country is the right choice for you.
As a final thought, here is a reminder for those who want to come to China to teach the English language: there is a quite a strong trend of foreign teachers traveling across Asia to teach the English language to kids. In China, there are certain cities which have very strong competitions as they mostly accept Native-English speakers. This is not merely about the language issue, but about the passport from a Native-English speaking country, which will grant you a legal ticket to the world of teaching English as a foreign language. Among such highly-competitive cities are Shenzhen and Shanghai. But on the other hand, it seems quite easy to get a job as an English language teacher (not taking into account the permit requirements): all you have to do is to know a bit of English (not necessarily good level of English), be able to jump, be a bit of actor and a clown and that’s it. When I was planning my move to China, I fancied how easy it would be for me to find a job as an English language teacher. Why not, I was thinking… If I have used English on a daily basis in different countries and very different environments for the last few years, have completed a Master’s degree entirely in English, know the language on a fluent level, why would I not be able to get a job with ease? But here in China, I faced the harsh reality: it came out to be not so valuable. My English language skills, the list of published articles in English, my MSc degree from Holland and my endless Love for children seemed to be not enough for Chinese schools. As long as I am not a clown, an actor, and a sports teacher, I am considered to be a “bad” English language teacher. Quite disappointing, isn’t it?
But as I said, if you have those actor skills, can pretend to be a clown and dancer for a while, the green lights are on for you. Chinese schools are not looking for English-language teachers, but they are looking for actors to play the role of someone who can say just a few words in English and pretend to be a teacher! Just be careful not be fooled and cheated by dishonest schools like I have been cheated and underpaid lately.
Ultimately, as mentioned before, China is full of Contrasts! There are good and bad from both sides. Just be prepared to be shaken over and over again in this increasingly shocking and developing Asian country.